The ball didn't bounce their way, the close calls seemed to go against them, and they committed too many turnovers. Despite it all, the resilient City Knights still had an opportunity to win yesterday's Class 2A state semifinal against Cumberland's Fort Hill at Poly.
What they couldn't overcome was the performance of Fort Hill running back Josh Page.
After the No. 4 Knights had pulled to within seven points with 8: 06 remaining, Page anchored a 14-play, 64-yard drive that consumed 7: 04 and culminated in his game-clinching 4-yard touchdown run.
Final score: Fort Hill 27, City 14.
With the win, the Sentinels (10-2) advanced to the 2A championship game for the second time in three years against Montgomery County's Wheaton at Maryland's Byrd Stadium at 4 p.m. Saturday. City, makings its first playoff appearance since 1993, ended its season at 9-3.
Page, a 6-foot-1, 210-pound junior, bulled his way for 36 yards on nine carries during the final drive and finished with 181 yards and three touchdowns on 41 carries.
"He's running with that forward lean now that a fullback needs to run with," Fort Hill coach Mike Calhoun said. "Josh Page has become a man here the last couple weeks."
Page was "the man," especially in the second half, during which he rushed 27 times for 114 yards.
With Page gaining more than 4 yards a carry -- and Fort Hill accumulating 302 yards on the ground -- the Sentinels were able to dominate time of possession, 34: 02 to 13: 58. The Knights had the ball just 29 seconds in the last quarter.
"We needed to get the ball back to score again, and they kept it from us," City coach George Petrides said. "Their offensive line did a great job. It's no mystery to me what they do. They're going to belly, belly, belly until you stop it. And we didn't stop it."
It seemed remarkable that the Knights were even within striking distance after committing six turnovers, including five interceptions of passes from quarterback Michael Johnson (7-for-17, 178 yards). Johnson was missing his favorite target, Warren Smith, out after injuring his left ankle slipping on a flight of stairs Thursday.
One of Johnson's interceptions occurred when his intended receiver, Bryant Johnson, slipped and the ball deflected off his helmet into the hands of Fort Hill's Rashad Page, who returned it 37 yards to the Sentinels' 47.
The ensuing drive led to a Fort Hill touchdown -- a 3-yard run by Josh Page -- to give the Sentinels a 21-6 lead with 1: 01 remaining in the third quarter.
Late in the second quarter, a fumble by City's Howard Simons at the Sentinels' 43 and Shawn Blanks' subsequent recovery and return to the Knights' 16 set up a 15-yard touchdown run by Noah Read that gave Fort Hill a 14-6 advantage.
Even when City wasn't turning the ball over, it couldn't get a break. Earlier in the third quarter, the Knights lost the ball on downs at their 45 when they failed to make half-a-yard on three tries. On the second attempt, it appeared City was the victim of a bad spot.
However, the Knights' special teams, specifically punt returner James Gee, kept them close.
Gee had given City a 6-0 lead early in the second quarter on a 62-yard punt return for a touchdown, then set up their other touchdown on a 40-yard punt return to Fort Hill's 24 in the fourth quarter.
Michael Johnson's 23-yard touchdown pass to Bryant Johnson (five receptions for 116 yards) and Michael Johnson's run for the two-point conversion brought City to within 21-14.
"The way these players came back, they showed a lot of guts and character all year. I'm disappointed we lost, but I'm not disappointed in our season," said Petrides.
Pub Date: 11/24/96